Good morning from Davos, Switzerland, where the weather has improved considerably and a veritable hit parade of world leaders has taken the stage to promote their agendas.
I promised yesterday to be brief today, and I’d like to share some high-level thoughts from two private working sessions I moderated Wednesday for the World Economic Forum.
The first was a conversation on priorities for global development and technology attended by World Bank President Jim Kim, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and a bevy of other government ministers and corporate leaders. At the highest level, the powerful group is focused on Internet connectivity, skills attainment and education, promoting entrepreneurship, and public-private collaboration to connect every sentient human to the Internet. That might sound like a bunch of hot air, but the group had some credible ideas that the forum plans to help keep top of mind.
The second was a fascinating and frightening look at the impact of quantum computing that featured incoming HPE chief executive Antonio Neri and some sharp academics. One thought that surfaced was the scary notion that quantum computers will be so powerful that they’ll empower device-born weaponization we can barely fathom today. For a peek at how this might look, watch this sobering video of “autonomous lethal micro-drones,” as well as this account of the vibrant debate it has provoked.
French President Emmanuel Macron committed a faux pas late in the day: He gave a seemingly endless speech that overlapped with cocktail hour. Indeed, while Macron was speaking Facebook was throwing an off-the-record party for journalists at its expensive digs on Davos’s equivalent of Main Street. I’m told Sheryl Sandberg made apologetic comments and pledged Facebook would fix its problems even if it hurts its own balance sheet, something Mark Zuckerberg already has pledged. It’s telling that the company most closely associated with publishing fake news and that doesn’t want to be thought of as a media company hosted an event for journalists but wouldn’t let them write about it. (I stopped by briefly, but after Sandberg spoke.)
More on Friday, when Donald Trump is expected to speak at 2:00 p.m. local time.
Ready already. Even before officially signing out as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Meg Whitman has lined up her next gig: the former eBay chief will take charge of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new mobile media startup NewTV. The new company says it aims to "bring the highest quality Hollywood production values and storytelling to mobile, in bite-sized formats of 10 minutes or less.”
Liftoff. Google's Alphabet parent holding company launched another of its startups out into public view. The new unit, Chronicle, which offers next-generation cybersecurity services, is run by Stephen Gillett, the former COO of Symantec. Is the next moonshot related to video games? Google this week hired Phil Harrison, who worked on Sony's Playstation and Microsoft's Xbox, for its hardware team run by Rick Osterloh.
Shots fired. The net neutrality battle rages on. On Wednesday, AT&T said it backed legislation that would apply the rules to Internet service providers and big Internet companies like Google and Facebook as well. (Or, as Ars Technica put it: "AT&T CEO’s net neutrality plan calls for regulation of websites.") Burger King had a somewhat...more hamburger-oriented argument for bringing back the rules, which were repealed last year. And New York state followed Montana in attempting to impose the rules by imposing the obligations on all state contractors.
Kind of squeaky. While Apple CEO Tim Cook was in Canada touting the company's efforts in augmented reality and virtual reality apps, he also spent some time defending Apple's delayed HomePod smart speaker. “We think one thing that was missing from this market was a quality audio experience, a very immersive audio experience,” Cook told the Financial Post. “Music deserves that kind of quality as opposed to some kind of squeaky sound.”
The next unicorn. Cloud data services startup Snowflake raised another $263 million of venture capital, giving it a valuation of $1.5 billion. CEO and former Microsoft exec Bob Muglia told Geekwire the company's revenue was in the tens of millions of dollars and tripled last year.
More shots fired. In smartphone land, Samsung scheduled a major press event for February 25, when it appears likely the company will unveil the next version of its flagship, the Galaxy S9. In India, now one of the largest and fastest growing phone markets, however, Samsung was overtaken as the best selling brand by China's Xiaomi in the fourth quarter, according to Counterpoint Research. Meanwhile, Apple hopes to make the iPhone even more useful by adding a health records storage feature.
Miracle merger wanted. Web audience tracker Comscore might not continue on its own. The financially challenged firm, which was delisted from the Nasdaq last year amid board troubles and a long-running accounting probe, hired Goldman Sachs to review strategic options including a possible sale, Bloomberg reported.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The digital currency mania has certainly encompassed XRP, the cryptocurrency from startup Ripple that exploded to a gain of 20,000% last year. But unlike, say, the beverage company that added "blockchain" to its name, Ripple at least had a compelling narrative to tell investors. Banks send trillions of dollars around the world every year and Ripple wants to use XRP and its accompanying digital ledger, or blockchain, to speed things up and bring down costs. But an investigation by Bloomberg's Matthew Leising and Edward Robinson found there may not be much there there, at least as far as the digital coin is concerned.
The problem is that banks say they have no interest in using XRP. Current and former executives at seven global banks—some of whom have partnered with Ripple—say there was scant chance they would ever entrust their corporate clients’ payments to a cryptocurrency. The executives requested anonymity.
“It’s bewildering,” says Joseph Lubin, the founder of ConsenSys, a startup that develops applications based on the Ethereum blockchain, the technology used for Ether. “Effectively it’s a totally useless token except that it is being used by that company to make a lot of money to fund some of their activities.”
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BEFORE YOU GO
How long could you last alone and drifting in the open ocean? Scuba diver Robert Hewitt made it almost four days in the Pacific before he was rescued. Scientists have some ideas about how the feat was possible in water temperatures where the median survival time is less than eight hours.